EXETER, Calif. – A week of freezing temperatures in early December wiped out about a quarter of California’s $2 billion citrus industry, an industry group estimated on Monday.
The group, California Citrus Mutual, said the damage was confined to the state’s Central Valley, where about $441 million in mandarin and navel oranges and lemons were lost during seven consecutive nights of freezing temperatures in early December.
Consumers are likely to see at least a slight increase in the price of oranges at the grocery store and can expect a shorter season for California citrus, the group said.
Temperatures fell into the low 20s during the freeze, forcing growers to turn to irrigation and wind machines to propel warm air through the fields. The cold temperatures also put other crops such as lettuce and avocado at risk.
The mandarin crop was of particular concern because the tiny fruit is thinner-skinned than other oranges, making it more susceptible to cold.
California Citrus Mutual said about 20 percent of the mandarin crop had already been harvested when the freeze set in, but about 40 percent of the remaining oranges, or $150 million in revenue, was lost. The navel crop suffered a 30 percent loss, with the dollar value of the damage hit $260 million, the group said. About $24 million in lemons also were lost.
The group estimated that citrus growers spent $49 million to protect the crop through early January.
The industry is wary of prices going too high, said Joel Nelsen, president of California Citrus Mutual.
Farmers have crop insurance, although it will not likely cover all of their losses, Nelsen said.
California’s drought will not affect this year’s crop, but it could be a factor for the following year, he said.